Not to be confused with Misfits of Science, the short-lived and frankly terrible 1980s TV series about teens with superpowers, the BBC series Misfits is a rather fun, often clever show that debuted in 2009, sporting a similar concept but a far more edgy tone.
The basic rundown, as set up in the premiere episode of Misfits: Season One, is that five British juvenile delinquents grouped together for public service at their local community center get caught in a freak storm. Giant hailstones crash from the sky, destroying property and altering lives. When the clouds disperse, the kids slowly realize it has changed them in unexpected, unexplainable ways. Goth wallflower Simon (Iwan Rheon) can turn invisible, tough girl Kelly (Lauren Socha, The Unloved) can hear what people are thinking about her, former track star Curtis (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) can turn back time, and party girl Alisha (Antonia Thomas) now inspires uncontrollable sexual urges in any man who touches her skin. Only the resident loudmouth, Nathan (Robert Sheehan, Red Riding Trilogy), seems unaffected...though it's only a matter of time.
The kids slowly realize they have been mutated, and these epiphanies happen largely by accident. Shortly after, they discover their parole officer has developed a split personality, turning into a raging monster whenever his anger boils over. From episode to episode, the group discovers that they weren't the only ones changed by the storm. All over the neighborhood, people start exhibiting extraordinary abilities. There is the senior citizen who can make herself young again, and the girl with alopecia who can make other people's hair fall out. Though we catch on much faster than Misfits' main characters, it becomes clear that everyone's powers are tied to their personalities. Be it their fondest wish or their deepest anxiety, the superpowers have manifested from somewhere within them. For instance, Curtis' life was destroyed by one mistake. If he could turn back the clock and fix it, he would. Kelly cares what people think about her, Simon feels no one notices he is there--so, boom, now those character flaws are a character strength.
The first half of the season involves the kids figuring out what happened to them and dealing with the fear that they might get caught for having killed their parole officer. Despite being self-defense--he was unleashing the anger and frustration his job forced him to bottle up--no one is going to believe a quintet of young offenders when they say so. The way this is dealt with leads to further complications, and the continued struggle to find balance fuels the ongoing story.
Misfits was created by Howard Overman, who also created Vexed and has written for Merlin and Dirk Gently. Overman is endeavoring to create a mature superpowered story, both taking advantage of the looser guidelines of cable television (swearing, violence, sex), but also in examining how a situation like this might really play out, the challenges and the consequences of extraordinary circumstances. I'll be honest, the pilot episode is quite terrible, with some truly bad special effects and a wayward plot outline that falls into the predictable traps of a superhero origin story. Stick with the it, though, Misfits gets exponentially better as it goes. The fourth episode should be enough to sell you. In it, Overman brilliantly uses Curtis' time powers to give us flashbacks to the history of the kids, and also to play with time travel conventions. After several attempts to make history go his way, Curtis is taught that fate isn't so easy to change. The fifth episode follows this up nicely, turning the focus on Simon and heading down some dark narrative alleyways.
One problem: be prepared not to make it all the way out of those alleyways. Just as I was getting into Misfits: Season One good and proper, it abruptly ended. While the virtues of the shorter seasons on British television are often sung for how it keeps shows from going on long past their sell-by date, in the case of Misfits, six episodes isn't enough, and the season cliffhanger is a totally cruel move on the part of the show makers. Thank goodness future seasons are already available on Hulu, because waiting for the Season Two DVDs could prove problematic.
The copy of Misfits: Season One sent to us from the studio was a collection of test discs rather than final retail copies, which makes it hard to judge how close to the actual product what I am seeing actually is. Despite not being watermarked or anything of the like, the image quality seems a step or two degraded from what one should expect from a retail boxed set. Lines are fuzzy and there are tracers in the more fast-paced scenes. If the real discs are anything like this, it'll be a shame.
The audio mix here, however, is quite good. The show often gets loud, and the big booms come without any speaker distortion or crackles on the 2.0 track. The musical choices for the show are really good, and the tunes sound great, as well. Dialogue is sharp and easy to make out, even with the thick accents of some of the characters. If those are a problem, I suppose you could always turn on the English subtitles.
The discs I have came in paper sleeves, so it remains to be seen what kind of packaging the double-set will receive. The first season has six episodes in total, each in the 40 to 50-minute range. Chapter stops seem rather random, cutting into the middle of scenes rather than breaking cleanly, so this leads me to believe that my suspicion is right and these are discs made just for critics.
The standard, expected extras are here. Nine short interviews--five with the main cast members, two with directors, and two with producers--are fairly by numbers. (Strangely, series creator Howard Overman is absent.) There is also a trio of features labeled as a "Making of," each focusing on something specific, including the filming of the big storm and one memorable stunt sequence.
Slightly off the beaten track are four of the films we see Simon making on his cell phone throughout the season. The full versions are included here.
Recommended. Misfits: Season One is a pretty good kickoff. The British television series revolves around five difficult teens who get superpowers from a freak storm, and who barely learn about their own new abilities when they start to realize that they aren't the only ones to have gotten enhanced by whatever freak of nature occurred. Misfits is irreverently funny, ribald, and often quite smart. Above all, it's a fun, addictive way to kill a few hours. Bring on Season Two!
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with JoŽlle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the comedy series Spell Checkers, again with Jones and artist Nicolas Hitori de. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.